Quantcast

Climate Model Predicts Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet Could Double Sea Level Rise

Climate

It is no longer a question of “if” the unthinkable happens, but a question of “when.” And the “when” could happen sooner than you think.

For decades climate scientists have been worried about what happens if the vast West Antarctic ice sheet melts.

A view of icebergs calving from Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica in 2014. Researchers found that total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100. Photo credit: Jim Yungel / NASA

The melting of the ice-sheet, which is greater than the size of Mexico, has always been seen as somewhat of a doomsday scenario as it has to the potential to rise sea level by several meters. This is due to the fact that much of the ice-sheet sits on the ground, rather than floats.

Scientists have known about the threat for decades. As the respected British environmental journalist, Paul Brown, wrote 20 years ago in his book Global Warming—Can Civilization Survive?: If the West Antarctic Ice sheet melted “it could add between 4 and 7 m (13-23 feet) to sea level rise … such figures appear to create the potential for a series of large-scale catastrophes.”

By its very nature, any sea level rise of this nature would be catastrophic—wiping out most coastal cities and low-lying areas.

Maybe because the thought is so unthinkable, it has been easy to dismiss. The deniers and climate skeptics have long responded that this kind of speculation was scaremongering.

The other source of comfort is that even in their worst nightmare scenarios, scientists thought that this would happen over a period of hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

But not any more.

Scientists now believe that that the vast ice sheet is melting much more quickly than before, in part due to rising air temperatures as well as rising sea-temperatures.

Yesterday a paper, published in the prestigious journal Nature predicted that “Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100.”

Added to melting ice in other regions, this means that sea level rise could be some five to six feet higher by the end of this century.

As the New York Times reports: “That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.”

If this is not mind-blowing enough, the scientists add that sea level rise could be “more than 15 meters by 2500, if emissions continue unabated.”

It is worth reading the next two sentences twice from the Times, allowing them to sink in:

“The long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities ... New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote.”

For those of us who have written about climate change for decades, we have often wondered when the tipping point will come that spurts governments into radical and urgent action.

Great storms have come and gone, cities have already been plunged under water, destructive droughts have killed millions and yet we carry on roughly as normal. Yes, renewables are gaining hold, but not nearly fast enough and governments still subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of billions.

The obvious response to my last paragraph is to argue that we are not carrying as normal, that only a few months ago that governments signed an historic agreement to tackle climate change in Paris.

Before that lulls you into a false sense of security, the deal is not nearly enough to save the West Antarctic ice sheet. It does not go anywhere far enough to reduce carbon emissions to the degree necessary.

“The bad news is that in the business-as-usual, high-emissions scenario, we end up with very, very high estimates of the contribution of Antartica to sea-level rise,” by 2100, Professor Robert DeConto, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who led the work, tells the Guardian. “This [doubling] could spell disaster for many low-lying cities.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

20 Attorneys General Launch Climate Fraud Investigation of Exxon

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Yet Another Record Low

95% of Meteorologists Back Climate Consensus

James Hansen: Dangerous Sea Level Rise Will Occur in Decades, Not Centuries

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new study shows that half of all Arctic warming and corresponding sea-loss during the late 20th century was caused by ozone-depleting substances. Here, icebergs discharged from Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier. Kevin Krajick / Earth Institute / EurekAlert!

The world awakened to the hole in the ozone layer in 1985, which scientists attributed it to ozone-depleting substances. Two years later, in Montreal, the world agreed to ban the halogen compounds causing the massive hole over Antarctica. Research now shows that those chemicals didn't just cut a hole in the ozone layer, they also warmed up the Arctic.

Read More
Diane Wilson holds up a bag full of nurdles she collected from one of Formosa's outfall areas on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog

By Julie Dermansky

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.

After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa in 2017, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.

Read More
Sponsored

By Simon Coghlan and Kobi Leins

A remarkable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the world's first "living robots."

Read More
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin (front 2nd L) and officials inspect a container containing plastic waste shipment on Jan. 20, 2020 before sending back to the countries of origin. AFP via Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country Malaysia has sent 150 shipping containers packed with plastic waste back to 13 wealthy countries, putting the world on notice that it will not be the world's garbage dump, as CNN reported. The countries receiving their trash back include the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada.

Read More
Trump leaves after delivering a speech at the Congress Centre during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Jan. 21, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed the concerns of environmental activists as "pessimism" in a speech to political and business leaders at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday.

Read More